WEST LONG BRANCH — The gravity of creating an entirely new community carved from 1,100 acres of real estate that has been guarded, gated and protected by the Army for nearly a century was not lost on the nearly 300 people who came to discuss the reuse of Fort Monmouth tonight.
They came to the Pollack Auditorium on the campus of Monmouth University for the first of five public sessions designed to elicit input into the redevelopment of the 90-year-old post, which is scheduled to close on Sept. 15, 2011.
They were beseeched for more than an hour in official speeches by members of the fort’s redevelopment authority and their reuse consultants to come armed with ideas, and to keep coming for further sessions, which are scheduled in rapid succession for the remainder of the month.
But when it was time to voice their ideas, they flew like buckshot.
High tech center. State university. Nanotechnology research. Transportation hub. Green space. Bicycle trails. Affordable housing. Bird sanctuary.
“I don’t want to look back at what this (Fort Monmouth) became and say I didn’t participate,” said Jim Grenafege of Middletown. “I have a stake in it.”
Some ideas bounced around toward the end of the more than two-hour session were more amorphous than others, but overall it was a good start to a double-time process to beat a federal Dec. 8 deadline to draft a master plan for the fort, members of the fort’s redevelopment authority said.
“We heard a lot of ideas from people tonight,” said Tinton Falls Mayor Peter Maclearie. “A lot of ideas we haven’t heard before.”
The Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority — the 10-member panel charged with mapping a post-fort future — along with members of their redevelopment consultants called tonight’s meeting as an introduction to the public input process of crafting a re-use plan.
Other sessions — which are scheduled to delve into greater detail — are planned for June 18, 19, 21 and 25. They will be held in Eatontown, Oceanport, Tinton Falls and Freehold, respectively.
The sessions are the first phase of master plan creation process that will yield — in double time — a workable reuse plan for the fort’s more than 1,100 acres, according to Tim Delorm, a vice president of EDAW Inc., the San Francisco-based firm hired by the fort’s redevelopment authority to craft the reuse plan.
Representatives from EDAW previously have told the authority it usually takes 12 to 18 months to draft a reuse plan for a closed military installation. Fort Monmouth’s redevelopment plan must be crafted by Dec. 8, according to the federal law that closed the post.
Delorm has since somewhat backed off the 18-month claim. At a news conference earlier this month to kick off the first phase of the redevelopment process, he said a project the size of Fort Monmouth would normally take about a year.
Delorm also said, however, that the surrounding communities — Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls — have shaved months off the first phase of the process by mapping out their objectives in their respective master plans.
Eatontown has mapped out a redevelopment plan for the fort’s Howard Commons area — a 42-acre tract of abandoned and dilapidated military housing off Pine Brook Road near the Tinton Falls boundary. That process, Tarantolo said, took six months.
Tinton Falls, which continues to debate a master plan review it began more than a year ago, has sketched a plan for the roughly 250 acres it stands to inherit. And Oceanport is in the midst of holding public workshops to define what it would like to see in the more than 400 acres it will gain when the post closes.
But each of the mayors of the fort’s host towns said at a Saturday press conference that their master plans are more guidelines than mandates because federal government is not bound by local planning rules.
While some who attended tonight’s session said they were unsure exactly what they would like to see the fort become, others, like Brian McGuire of Ocean Township, were quite certain what they didn’t want to see.
“The last thing I want to hear is that they put up a bunch of McMansions,” McGuire said.